In a situation of intense change, one cannot remain passive. Many countries today take a wait-and-see attitude in the hope that changes will not affect them. However, those who adopt this indifferent position pay the highest price — in fact, a new international reality will be built at their expense, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.
Over the past years, my colleagues and I have been writing about the collapse and the “crumbling” of the world order. We stated that the possibility of forming an effectively functioning order based on global governance has escaped us. Today there is no doubt that such an international order has reached its logical conclusion. Why did this happen?
Despite the end of the Cold War, the historical foundations of the European order have not changed since the 1940s. If construed as a formula, they can be found in the strategy of American behaviour in Europe after World War II proposed by J. Kennan: “A cautious, persistent pressure toward the disruption and weakening of all rival influence and rival power.” Over time, American influence based on military-political alliances was reinforced by financial globalisation centred around the US and European markets. Its distinctive feature was the non-equivalent exchange of finance and technology for industrial products and resources, which were bought at a significant discount to their real value. Since the end of the Cold War, the beneficiaries of Western-centric globalisation have widened. The world began to resemble a community of trading states that do not accept war as a way to resolve disputes — akin to the “Modern Paradise” described a century ago by the political philosopher Norman Engel. Nevertheless, it soon became clear that the transformation of the continental European order into a global one requires rigid ideological determinants. Often such constructions were imposed on other states, regardless of their cultures and strategic national interests.
One of the participants in this clash is Russia. We have repeatedly described — both in the academic and in the freer forms — the path that Moscow has chosen over the past thirty years. From the famous “Russia extends a hand of friendship to the people of America” in 1992 to “Russia will not follow such rules” — a rejection of the norms and values of the Western order in 2022. Today Turkey is guided by a similar foreign policy model, establishing new rules in the Middle East and at the same time protecting the old order in Europe.
In the described dispute between economic entities, three main actors can be observed today: first, the countries of the West, which seek to maintain the status quo and give the conflict a normative component — the conflict of “democracies against revisionist autocracies”. Second, there are countries that broke away from the West, such as Russia and Turkey, which also have a normative argument for the struggle for justice.
Finally, third, the economic entity of the “global majority” — a group of ascendants which for the first time act on the global stage for their right to become equal participants in the new system.
Such a dispute became possible, first of all, due to the global transformation of the economy. Today in Europe, discussions are in full swing about an economic recession and an inevitable drop in the standard of living of Europeans — these scenarios were considered impossible even a few years ago. German Economy Minister Robert Habeck has admitted that several industries would shut down due to rising energy prices. The collapse of the way of life of Europeans entails far-reaching consequences for their worldview: who are we in the new reality, if in the short term we no longer have a chance to transition to an energy-efficient, environmentally friendly economy?
Second, the economic shock was superimposed on a systematic lack of understanding in Europe about its own national interests. Strategic behaviour is always based on a sober correlation of available resources with policy goals. However, over the past thirty years in Europe, the technological resource was provided by the United States and the energy resource was provided by Russia; American influence has always been at the heart of the foreign policy goal-setting of European countries. As a result, a generation of politicians capable of independently determining strategic behaviour was washed out in Europe. All this has led to Europe’s unpreparedness for an independent, coherent response to the current military-political and economic crises.
How will Europe survive in the new conditions of a crumbling world order? States will have to possess two characteristics.
First, strategic autonomy. It is based on a sober understanding of one’s resource endowment and a verified hierarchy of vital interests. Strategically, autonomous behaviour is always based on the correlation of these variables. Today in Europe, strategic autonomy has been replaced in most countries by imported foreign policy models. For example, for a long time Finland has pursued an independent foreign policy based on the Paasikivi-Kekkonen line: military neutrality and economic prosperity. Today, however, the country has switched to importing Euro-Atlantic solidarity, forming a zone of heightened military uncertainty near its borders.
Second, it is necessary to have the initiative. In a situation of intense change, one cannot remain passive. Many countries today take a wait-and-see attitude in the hope that changes will not affect them. However, those who adopt this indifferent position pay the highest price — in fact, a new international reality will be built at their expense. Amid conditions of increased competition between the three major centres — the West, the non-West and the “world majority” — non-participation in the restructuring of the world means a strategic defeat.